The Southern Resident killer whales (also called orcas/Orcinus orca) are a large extended family, or clan, comprised of three pods: J, K, and L pods. Within each pod, families form into sub-pods centered around older females, usually grandmothers or great-grandmothers. Both male and female offspring remain in close association with their mothers for life.
Each Southern Resident pod uses a distinctive dialect of calls (sounds) to communicate. Certain calls are shared between all three pods. The calls used by the Southern Resident community are unlike the calls used by any other community of killer whales. These calls can travel ten miles or more underwater.
From spring through fall, the Southern Resident killer whales are most often seen in the protected inshore waters of the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Strait of Georgia, and Puget Sound, and all their connecting channels and adjoining waters, and the waters around and between the San Juan Islands in Washington State and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia.
As of July 1, 2019, the SRKW population totals 73 whales:
- J Pod=22
- K Pod=17
- L Pod=34
The size of all three Southern Resident pods was reduced in number from 1965-75 as a result of whale captures for marine park exhibition. At least 13 whales were killed during these captures, while 45 whales were delivered to marine parks around the world. Today, only Lolita (Tokitae) remains alive in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. Annual SRKW population updates occur on July 1 and December 31 each year.
*White Rock Sea Tours credits the Center for Whale Research for this content. The SRKW population totals cited in this website are for the general public and are provided as estimates. The number of whales in this population is constantly changing. Please contact the Center for Whale Research directly to receive the most current information, prior to any publication of this population estimate. The information on this page is updated on July 1 and December 31 each year. Any published or broadcast reference to this population estimate must include credit to the CWR.
The primary focus of CWR research is the Southern Resident population of killer whales (orcas). All three pods uniting is referred to as a super pod.
J pod is the pod most likely to appear year-round in the waters of the San Juan Islands and Southern Gulf Islands, lower Puget Sound (near Seattle), and Georgia Strait. This 22-member pod tends to frequent the west side of San Juan Island in mid to late spring.
K pod is the smallest of the three pods in the Southern Resident killer whale community with only 17 members. The most recent calf born into K pod is K44 (male, born 2011), the first known calf of K27.
L pod is by far the largest of the three Southern Resident pods. Its members currently total 34. L25, (estimated to have been born in 1928) is both the oldest member of L pod and the oldest whale in the Southern Resident community. L pod’s males include L87, although he has been traveling with J pod since 2010. The pod’s newest calf, L124, was born into the population in December 2018.